San Diego to Yellowstone Road Trip

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This San Diego to Yellowstone road trip will take you from the Pacific coast to America’s most famous and treasured national park. Along the way, you’ll visit cities and towns with big-ticket attractions, as well as take in some of America’s most beautiful scenery.
This road trip from San Diego to Yellowstone checks every critical road trip box. Each city and town along the way is loaded with fun things to do and great places to eat. And the views are simply breathtaking from one stop to the next, too.
On this road trip, you’ll be visiting five states—California, Nevada, Utah, Idaho, and Montana—and briefly passing through Arizona as well. And much of Yellowstone National Park is located in Wyoming, too.
Before you head out, be sure to have your car looked over by a professional, and consider investing in affordable and inclusive roadside assistance with the car insurance app, Jerry. Don’t let a flat tire, a fuel mishap, a lockout, or a dead car battery ruin your grand tour through America’s southwest regions.
Now it’s time to hit the road!

Key trip details

San Diego to Yellowstone Route
Distance: 1,104 miles
Driving Time: 16 hours 45 minutes
Suggested Trip Duration: Five to seven days

Itinerary

For most road trips, we usually suggest the most scenic and fun route rather than the quickest path from point A to point B. But on a San Diego to Yellowstone road trip, there’s a lot of fun to be had along the quickest route. 
  • San Diego, California
  • Los Angeles, California
  • Las Vegas, Nevada
  • St. George, Utah
  • Salt Lake City, Utah
  • Idaho Falls, Idaho
  • Yellowstone National Park
This route takes you to some of America’s hottest vacation spots, all in the span of about a week or so. Each leg will take four and a half hours of driving or less, and three destinations—Los Angeles, St. George, and Idaho Falls—are shorter drives. You might even skip those areas, or just briefly visit for lunch.
This trip doesn’t take into account the time you’ll spend in Yellowstone National Park. Yellowstone is a massive sprawling park, and it’s easy to spend several days there, or even a whole week. You’ll want to take that into consideration as well.
Pro Tip: Never drive for more than eight hours consecutively. Falling asleep behind the wheel is extremely dangerous, not only for you and your passengers but for other motorists too.

Start in San Diego, California

This exciting road trip starts in one of America’s most comfortable and well-rounded cities. San Diego offers perfect weather all year, pristine beaches, thrilling attractions, amazing food...if there’s a better benchmark for vacationing in the United States, we’re hard-pressed to name it.
It’s easy to spend a whole week or two in San Diego. Some of us wouldn’t mind moving there, even. But hey, we’re trying to get to Yellowstone National Park, right? So here’s more than enough suggestions for just a day or two. Otherwise, we’ll talk about San Diego all day!

Where to stay in San Diego

  • The Porto Vista Hotel: (from $100) The Porto Vista cleverly and creatively sculpts modern chic into a 60s-style backdrop, with excellent amenities all around. Your dollar stretches a long way in this stylish three-star hotel in Little Italy.
  • The Dana on Mission Bay: (From $110) Presumably named after Two Years Before the Mast author, Richard Henry Dana, The Dana on Mission Bay is a family-friendly hotel conveniently located near SeaWorld and Mission Beach. This is our top pick for visiting San Diego with kids, given its location and their seriously excellent pool.
  • Tower23 Hotel: (from $180) Named for a lifeguard tower on the beach near the four-star hotel, Tower23 prides itself on being lifestyle-oriented, with gorgeous ocean views and easy beach access. The restaurant’s bar and grill, JRDN, is a great spot for dinner and cocktails. A good choice if you’re traveling with adults or if your kids are older.

Where to eat in San Diego

  • Breakfast Republic: ($$) With locations all around the San Diego area, Breakfast Republic is our top pick for kicking off your day of adventure with a great meal at a reasonable price. Three of their locations are close to the San Diego Zoo. Their brioche french toast will easily rank among the best you’ve ever had.
  • Pete’s Seafood and Sandwich: ($$) This is one of those restaurants you might pass on the street and not think twice about. And boy, what a mistake that would be. Pete’s might just have the best lobster rolls and clam chowder you’ll find outside of New England. This restaurant isn’t especially vegetarian or vegan friendly, as a heads-up.
  • La Puerta: ($$) You can’t visit SoCal without sampling some authentic Mexican food, and it doesn’t get much more authentic than the menu at La Puerta. If you enjoy a blend of sweet and spicy, try their pastor quesadilla, which fuses pineapple and jalapeno to make one of the yummiest entrees you’ll find on this road trip.

What to do in San Diego

Blue skies and blue trash bin on the sands of Mission Beach
Mission Beach, San Diego, California
  • Visit Mission Beach: Mission beach is a beautiful SoCal boardwalk. The Belmont Park area has been a San Diego hotspot for decades, with great food, shopping, and even games and a rollercoaster. Mission Beach is free to visit, but you should expect to spend money while here.
  • The San Diego Zoo: The San Diego Zoo might just be the most famous zoo in the world, and with countless animals on display, it’s not difficult to imagine why. You can navigate this massive, sprawling complex on guided bus tours, hop on the Kangaroo bus at various stops around the park, or ride the Skyfari aerial tram. Tickets for kids ages three to 11 are $52, while everyone 12+ is $62. Those ticket prices are as high as zoos go, but you definitely get what you pay for at the San Diego Zoo.
  • Midway Aircraft Carrier Museum: The USS Midway took to the sea just one week after the end of World War II and was named after the war’s most famous naval battle. Today, the Midway is a floating naval museum that enthralls kids with fun. Tickets for kids ages 6 to 12 and veterans (military ID required) cost $18 each, while tickets for everyone ages 13+ cost $26.
  • Seaport Village: The Seaport Village is almost like a large outdoor mall, with all sorts of restaurants, shops, and attractions that can easily keep your family or friends occupied for a whole day. Be sure to ride the carousel and visit the lighthouse. And don’t leave Seaport Village without paying a visit to our favorite shop of them all: the Something Sweet Candy Shop!
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San Diego to Los Angeles, California 

95 miles, 1 hour 30 minutes
Ready to finally hit the road? The first leg of your San Diego to Yellowstone road trip takes you to the City of Angels. Los Angeles is a thriving, sprawling metropolis, second in population in the United States only to New York City
As you probably know already, Los Angeles is the throbbing heart of America’s movie industry, with an important stake in the music business as well. With iconic landmarks, gorgeous (though often crowded) beaches, and food ranging from street tacos to restaurants with Michelin stars, it’s almost difficult to not have fun visiting Los Angeles.
From San Diego, the drive to Los Angeles is short and straightforward. Just hop on “the five” (Interstate 5 north) for an hour and a half, and you’re there
Pro Tip: Traffic in Los Angeles can get crazy. If you’re not stopping in Los Angeles, take Interstate 15 out of San Diego and stay on it to get through the city more quickly. You’ll spend most of this trip on Interstate 15 anyway!

Where to stay in Los Angeles

Hotels in Los Angeles that aren’t chains tend to be chic, trendy, and retro-themed. In fact, all three hotels we’re recommending here have those retro themes. But this being one of America’s biggest cities, you can expect to find all manner of hotels here.
  • The Anaheim Hotel: (from $135) Easily one of the best hotels in Los Angeles for families, the Anaheim Hotel is within walking distance to Disneyland, with a big pool, luxurious family suites, and poolside movies and live music too. You might hear “1960s retrospective styling” and think “dated,” but it’s actually quite chic and modern. If they have rooms available, this is a great choice for anyone traveling with kids.
  • The Garland: (from $170) Los Angeles hotels do love the decor sensibilities of the 1960s, and like the Anaheim Hotel, the Garland embraces that vibe throughout their three-star hotel. The Garland is close to Universal Studios, with an attractive balance of amenities that make it a great choice whether you’re traveling with kids or other adults.
  • Hotel Figueroa: (from $140) We try to not share too many chain hotels in our road trip articles, but for a nice downtown stay in a four-star hotel, you won’t do much better than Hyatt’s Hotel Figueroa. This hotel adheres more strictly to modern design concepts, though you’ll of course find elements from the 1930s through the 1970s because hey, it’s Los Angeles. This is our top pick for groups of adults traveling without kids, though kids are certainly welcome here too.
Pro Tip: Visiting Disneyland? Be sure to check out their website and look at their nearby hotels.

Where to eat in Los Angeles

Los Angeles has a lively foodie scene and world-famous food trucks roam the streets looking to quench the appetites of pedestrians. You won’t have a hard time finding good meals here, but there are a few restaurants worthy of going out of your way.
  • In-n-Out Burger: ($) Okay, we know what you’re thinking: Why the heck would you suggest a fast-food chain?! But if you’re not from the West Coast, In-n-Out Burger is something of a novelty. Vegetarians should ask for the grilled cheese, or order a “veggie burger” (which is just veggies; there’s no veggie patty).
  • Poppy + Rose: ($$) This breakfast and brunch spot is famous for its chicken and waffles, but their kitchen sink bowl is definitely something you should try too. This is a family-friendly downtown joint with a diverse and affordable menu.
  • Vegetable: ($$) Located close to Universal Studios, Vegetable is a vegan and vegetarian restaurant with beyond-meat burgers that could easily dupe a velociraptor and a pineapple-mango milkshake that will ruin lesser shakes for you. Even if it’s out of your way, Vegetable is a restaurant worthy of visiting.
  • Redbird: ($$ - $$$$) Redbird is a chic, upscale space with a high end but approachable menu. This is definitely a restaurant for adults—there’s little on the menu kids would enjoy—but one of our preferred gourmet dining experiences in Los Angeles.

What to do in Los Angeles

From Santa Monica to Dana Point, Los Angeles is loaded with fun things to see and do, and there are way too many attractions for us to list here. But let’s rattle off a handful of great attractions the whole family will love.
Family of fake mammoths by a pool of water and palm trees at the La Brea Tar Pits
La Brea Tar Pits and Museum, Los Angeles, California
  • Disneyland: What can we say about Disneyland that you don’t already know? As one of the most famous theme parks in the world, Disneyland is home to a wide range of attractions, most of which are aimed at kids. Disneyland has hotels, restaurants, and more. General admission prices vary wildly, fluctuating from one day to the next, but as a general rule tickets will cost between $100 and $160 for one day, or up to $360 for five days. Children under three are free. There are all sorts of passes and packages and the deals change constantly, but as a rule, it’s better if you book your tickets early.
  • Universal Studios Hollywood: Like Disneyland, Universal Studios Hollywood features loads of restaurants and hotel accommodations. And also like Disneyland, ticket prices vary. You should expect to spend anywhere from $110 to $140 per ticket. This park is a bit more all-ages than Disneyland, with more for older kids and adults to enjoy.
  • The Santa Monica Pier: This famous north-LA hotspot is a playland built on a pier jutting out over the Pacific Ocean. With amusement park rides, games, and boardwalk-style food, the Santa Monica Pier is a lot of fun for people of all ages.
  • La Brea Tar Pits and Museum: Another one of Los Angeles’ famous landmarks, the La Brea Tar Pits feature tar bubbling up to the surface of the Earth. Famous excavations have happened here over the years, and today it’s home to a fun museum to explore. Admission costs $15 per person.

Los Angeles to Las Vegas, Nevada

266 miles, 4 hours 20 minutes
After having your fill of Los Angeles, it’s time to hit the road for Vegas, baby! Las Vegas is infamously known as a grown-up playground, leaning for years on the slogan “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” But in the years since, Las Vegas has become a lot more family-friendly.
If you’re traveling in a group of all adults, you aren’t going to struggle finding great hotels to stay at, restaurants to eat in, or activities to keep you all occupied. I mean, come on...it’s Vegas. So these recommendations will be strictly focused on those traveling with kids
Vegas has come a long way in recent years, but it can still be difficult to find fun things for children to do in Sin City.
To reach Las Vegas, we’re going to take Interstate 15 out of Los Angeles. And you’re going to be staying on Interstate 15 for most of this road trip, too. From here on out, this will be a very simple drive.

Where to stay in Las Vegas

No, these prices aren’t typos. Las Vegas has insanely cheap hotels, largely because they’re hoping you’ll stay longer and lose play more money in their casinos. And those savings benefit families traveling through Vegas, too.
You can’t go wrong in most big hotels in Las Vegas, but these three are arguably the most kid-friendly in town.
Side view of the Excalibur Hotel & Casino on a partly cloudy afternoon
Excalibur Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas, Nevada
  • Circus Circus: (from $50) If there’s one hotel-casino in Vegas that screams “family-friendly,” it’s definitely Circus Circus. With free circus acts daily, a stunning pool with water slides, an amusement park, and one of the coolest arcades in town, Circus Circus is easily our top pick for families visiting Vegas.
  • Excalibur Hotel & Casino: (from $20) Are the kids upset after leaving Disneyland? Staying in a castle in Las Vegas might be the best way to wean them off the magic kingdom. These rooms are a little dated compared to much of the rest of what you’ll find in Vegas, but it’s a functional hotel with nice amenities.
  • MGM Grand: (from $35) Another remarkably cheap Las Vegas hotel, the MGM Grand boasts a ridiculous six-acre pool, though most of the people you’ll find poolside are twenty-somethings casually flirting and day-drinking, so it might not be suitable to bring the kids for a swim. Still, MGM Grand has nice rooms and amenities and it’s conveniently located.

Where to eat in Las Vegas

As you know, Las Vegas is a city themed entirely on the concept of everyone having fun. So finding a good meal is never difficult here. Your hotel itself will likely have great restaurants on the grounds, and if not, you’ll find one very close by. But here are a few family-friendly restaurants worth checking out.
  • Viva Las Arepas: ($ - $$) Looking for something a little different? Viva Las Arepas offers delicious, authentic Venezuelan food that’s hard to come by in the United States. Their affordable menu features their incredible empanadas. A visit to Las Vegas just isn’t the same without them.
  • Good Pie: ($$) Good Pie lives up to its namesake by offering all-around good pizza, which can be a bit difficult to come by west of New York and Chicago. It’s affordable, it’s filling, and it tastes great. You can Doordash their pizza to the hotel too if the kids are exhausted from playing all day.
  • Carson Kitchen: ($$) A trendy restaurant with brunch, lunch, and dinner options, Carson Kitchen is a nice restaurant that older kids can eat in. It’s more adult-oriented, but the food is astounding, especially their yummy breakfast tacos.

What to do in Las Vegas

We need to preface this with another statement that Las Vegas is a very easy city to have fun in. The whole town is designed from top to bottom to provide countless hours of fun for everyone, especially adults. But here are some family-friendly activities your kids can enjoy, too.
  • Springs Preserve: When it comes to cheap, family-friendly fun in Las Vegas, Springs Preserve is one of the first places that rolls off the tongue. This fun indoor-outdoor area has museums, animal habitats, gardens, live shows and performances, and more. General admission is just $9.95 per adult and $4.95 per child between the ages of 3 and 17, and you get a lot of family entertainment for that tiny price.
  • Discovery Children’s Museum: This thrilling interactive museum is ideal for younger kids, with a variety of play spaces to explore. There are even areas designed just for toddlers. Admission is $14.50 for tourists and $12.50 for Nevada residents.
  • The Attractions at Circus Circus: Even if you’re not staying at Circus Circus, this hotel is well worth a visit with the kids regardless. Free circus and carnival shows, the Adventuredome indoor theme park, the Midway arcade...it’s very easy to run into fun at Circus Circus.
  • The Fun Dungeon at Excalibur: If the Midway arcade at Circus Circus isn’t enough for you, try The Fun Dungeon at Excalibur. This sprawling arcade features more than 200 games, including the world’s biggest Pacman game!

Las Vegas to St. George, Utah

120 miles, 1 hour 50 minutes
Your San Diego to Yellowstone road trip will drastically change gears once you leave Las Vegas. So far, we’ve been exploring big, world-famous American cities. There’s still one more big city left to visit, but for the most part, the rest of this road trip will have a lot less hustle and almost no bustle.
Let’s get back on Interstate 15 North and follow it all the way to St. George. The road from Las Vegas to St. George is a flat desert for most of the trip, but the scenery starts to get really beautiful as you pass Littlefield, Arizona.
Eventually, you’ll stop in St. George. This small town is big on fun, with famous parks nearby and plenty of amenities for families on the go. This is a great place to stretch your legs for a few hours, or even stay overnight.
Pro Tip: This stretch of the route drives through a desert. Make sure your car’s coolant is topped off. Also, remember that your car will use more fuel more quickly with the AC on.

Where to stay in St. George

St. George can be a bit of a tourist trap, so there are plenty of hotels to choose from here. But here are our three favorites, chosen for their convenient locations, contemporary amenities, affordability, and general comfort levels.
The Majestic View Lodge: (from $96) A stunning three-star hotel with captivating rustic decor, the Majestic View Lodge is close to the entrance to Zion Canyon and should be a perfectly comfortable stay for the whole family.
Inn on the Cliff: (from $116) This comfortable, luxury-leaning three-star hotel has incredible views of the red rocks surrounding St. George, especially when you head up to the outdoor pool. This is a great choice for families, and the price is quite affordable too.
Sand Hollow Resort: (from $121) Arguably the most outdoorsy vacation spot on this San Diego to Yellowstone road trip (well, apart from Yellowstone, of course), Sand Hollow is famous for golfing, but also offers all sorts of outdoor activities, including boating, hiking, biking, and even offroad motorsports. A little more adult-oriented than the other hotels on our list, but still a lot of fun.

Where to eat in St. George

St. George has far fewer dining options than the cities we visited before, but there’s still great food in town if you know where to look. If you’re not in the mood for these suggestions, don’t worry—there are tons of chain restaurants in St. George serving up more familiar eats.
Tia’s Artisan Bakery and Restaurant: ($ - $$$) St. George’s best brunch spot, Tia’s has a broad menu of delectable baked sweets and the best tacos in St. George. Their five-bean chili is ridiculous. You’ll literally laugh (in a good way!). It’s really, really, really good.
The Green Iguana: ($ - $$) One of our favorite Mexican places in this guide, The Green Iguana has one of the best fajita burritos you’ll find anywhere. It’s a great spot for lunch or dinner with plenty of options for kids and adults alike.

What to do in St. George

Red rocks and red flowers on Snow Canyon State Park
Snow Canyon State Park, St. George, Utah
St. George is famous for its outdoor activities, including hiking, climbing, offroading, and more. And it’s all facilitated by the town’s proximity to several state and national parks.
Zion National Park: This famous national park features a stunning canyon with sharp walls and a flourishing valley floor at its basin. It’s truly a sight to behold, and well worth the $35 per car (or $20 if you’re on foot) they charge for entry.
Red Cliffs National Preservation Area: This 60,000-acre desert preserve is overflowing with intoxicating natural beauty, with hiking trails ranging in difficulty to appease everyone from beginners to experts.
Snow Canyon State Park: This beautiful state park is a great spot to test out that Yellowstone camping gear you’ve lugged here from San Diego. Entry is $15 per car (up to eight people) and $5 if you arrive by foot or bike. Camping costs just $35 per night for a site without hookups, and $125 to $150 to stay at their group sites.
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St. George to Salt Lake City, Utah

Distance = 302 miles, 4 hours 20 minutes
When it’s time to head out on the road again, jump back on interstate 15 north. You’ll spend the next four hours gawking at the beautiful scenery, and there are plenty of places to stop for a rest if you need to.
Next stop? Salt Lake City. “SLC” will be the last of the bigger cities you’ll visit on this San Diego to Yellowstone road trip, and there’s lots of adventure to be had here. 
With lots of hotels, restaurants, and attractions, Salt Lake City will be a great place to plan for an overnight stay, especially if you’re splitting up the driving with someone else and came here straight from Las Vegas.

Where to stay in Salt Lake City

Salt Lake City has a lot of nice hotels, but these two, in particular, are especially nice and suitable, whether you’re traveling with your friends or your kids.
The Salt Lake Plaza Hotel: (from $100) With a perfect location in downtown SLC, the Salt Lake Plaza Hotel is a comfortable, modern, and affordable hotel perfectly suited to those traveling with the family.
The Grand America Hotel: (from $254) We’re always on the lookout for five-star hotels at four-star prices, and the Grand America Hotel is exactly that. These luxurious rooms offer incredible views from every window, and the hotel has a great spa too. The Grand America Hotel is our pick for anyone looking for an upscale stay in Salt Lake City.

Where to eat in Salt Lake City

Like any moderately-sized American city, SLC has lots of great restaurants to choose from. But two restaurants in particular make our list of top choices.
The Park Cafe: ($) If the Park Cafe isn’t the best place for breakfast in Salt Lake City, we don’t know what is. The Park Cafe has a well-rounded breakfast and brunch menu at a very affordable price. The whole family will love this classic diner!
The Red Iguana: ($$) We’ve cultivated a great list of Mexican restaurants along this San Diego to Yellowstone road trip route, and the Red Iguana is easily one of the best among them. The fajitas here are the stuff of legend!

What to do in Salt Lake City

Entrance to the Hogle Zoo with a poster of a giraffe and a polar bear by the gate
The Hogle Zoo, Salt Lake City, Utah
Salt Lake City has lots of fun attractions, and its namesake—or name lake?—is probably chief among them. The Great Salt Lake is famed for its salty waters which, like the Dead Sea, allow you to float on the water. Definitely take a walk down to the beach and give it a try. Here are some other fun SLC attractions, too.
The Hogle Zoo: Did you miss out on the San Diego Zoo earlier in this trip? The Hogle Zoo may not be as famous, but it’s still lots of fun for the whole family. Admission for kids ages 3 to 12 is $16, while everyone ages 13+ gets in for $20.
The Loveland Living Planet Aquarium: The Loveland Aquarium boasts a huge catalog of marine life and more, with interactive exhibits, live events, and even a yoga class. Tickets will run you $16.95 per child ages 3 to 12, $18.95 per teen, and $21.95 per adult. Students, seniors, and military pay the teen price, and you can save $1 on admission by ordering your tickets online.
The Natural History Museum of Utah: One of the coolest museums you’ll find along this road trip, Utah’s Natural History Museum explores the realms of geology, minerals, botany, animals, and ancient people. The building is incredibly modern, the exhibits are captivating, and there’s enough to keep the kids happy for hours on end. 
Tickets for children 3 to 12 cost $14.95, young adults ages 13 to 24 cost $17.95, and adults get in for $19.95 each.
Pro Tip: Helicopter and hot air balloon tours are available, but quite expensive. Still, you may want to call around and ask about them. The views of the Great Salt Lake from the sky are incredible.

Salt Lake City to Idaho Falls, Idaho

Distance = 213 miles, 3 hours
We’re almost to Yellowstone! This next leg will be your final stop before reaching the park, putting us just under two hours away from the final destination. And in this leg, you’ll visit the quaint but lively town of Idaho Falls, Idaho.
Idaho Falls isn’t as famous for tourism as the other stops on this San Diego to Yellowstone road trip, but there’s a real “hidden gem” factor here that definitely makes it worth a visit, at least for an overnight stay.
Whether you stop off in Idaho Falls for lunch or for the night is up to you, but we strongly suggest seeing what this fun little town has to offer!

Where to stay in Idaho Falls

Idaho Falls is a smaller town that doesn’t get a lot of tourism, but that works in your favor when visiting. Rooms are fairly cheap, and there are lots of chain hotels in the area that are rarely overbooked. 
Any of those chain hotels—Holiday Inn Express, Hampton Inn, Residence Inn, etc.—will suit you fine. But if you’re hoping to stay in a uniquely Idaho Falls hotel, there’s just one choice we can recommend.
Le Ritz Hotel: (from $73) The Le Ritz is a nice three-star hotel with great amenities at a reasonable price. The rooms may be a little dated, but they’re clean, comfortable, and spacious. The Le Ritz Hotel is conveniently located near the I-15. Given the town’s smaller size, it’s fairly easy to get to all of Idaho Falls’ attractions from here, too.

Where to eat in Idaho Falls

We hope the flashy, upscale dining from earlier in the trip didn’t spoil Idaho Falls for you. While you may not find the same volume of chic eateries here as you might in those earlier cities, Idaho Falls does have some great restaurants.
O’Brady’s: ($) This family-friendly diner is a great place for any meal, but we highly recommend them for breakfast. You can’t go wrong with anything on O’Brady’s menu, but their waffles are especially excellent.
Stockman’s Restaurant:($$) Meat eaters...what if I told you there was a restaurant where you could pay $25 and get endless steak. Like, you know bottomless cups of coffee? That...but steak. Really, really good steak, too. Now, what if I told you this restaurant was real? Because it is. It’s Stockman’s in Idaho Falls.
Pro Tip: Unlike most steakhouses around the country, Stockman’s Restaurant has great options for vegetarians, too.

What to do in Idaho Falls

Idaho Falls has plenty of attractions to fill up an afternoon with exploring, so let’s take a look at some of the town’s fun offerings.
View of the Idaho Falls River Walk on a clear autumn day
Idaho Falls River Walk, Idaho Falls, Idaho
The Idaho Falls Riverwalk: This free, five-mile hike takes you along the Snake River, with pretty views of low-lying waterfalls and a quaint rural vibe that’s perfectly relaxing after a week of driving. The Riverwalk is free to explore.
The Museum of Idaho: With fascinating educational exhibits and an easy-to-navigate layout, the Museum of Idaho is a great place to take the kids on an adventure through history. It’s affordable, too. Kids ages 4 to 17 get in for $11, tickets for seniors cost $12, and adult tickets cost $13, while active military personnel get to tour the museum free of charge.
The Idaho Falls Zoo: The Idaho Falls Zoo is the smallest to make our list, but don’t let its stature fool you. This zoo has a wide range of animals, fun and educational events year-round, and shockingly cheap entry. Kids ages two and under are just fifty cents each. Children ages 3 to 12 are $5. Active military and veterans pay $6, and seniors pay $6.50. Last but not least, adults pay just $8 per person.

Idaho Falls to Yellowstone National Park

Distance = 109 miles, 1 hour 50 minutes
We’ve finally made it to the home stretch on our grand San Diego to Yellowstone road trip. Yellowstone National Park is one of the world’s most famous protected natural areas, and America’s first national park as well. 
The park is massive, covering 2.2 million acres. That’s more than 3,468 square miles! In fact, you could fit the entire states of Delaware and Rhode Island inside Yellowstone and still have space to spare
Most of the park is located in Wyoming, but the largest crop of hotels is found just on the border in Montana in the town of West Yellowstone. You’ll find similar areas at other entrances, but the West Entrance is easily the most popular portal into Yellowstone.
To reach Yellowstone, follow the signs to West Yellowstone and take US Route 20 East. This will eventually take you all the way to the park’s West Entrance.
Yellowstone National Park is huge. You’ll want to budget at least two or three days here, or even a full week.
Entry into Yellowstone National Park costs $35 per car, $30 per motorcycle or snowmobile, and $20 if you’re on foot or on  a bicycle. These fees will cover a seven-day visit to the park. Alternatively, you can pay $70 for a yearly pass, which is nice if you plan on staying longer than seven days.
Pro Tip: Be sure to take the Yellowstone Pledge before entering. This is a beautiful park, and a lot of work goes into keeping it beautiful. Please help keep it clean, safe, and special.

Where to stay in Yellowstone

Yellowstone National Park is great for camping, with 12 campgrounds and more than 2,000 sites. Visit the National Park Service website to book campsites. Please note that campsite bookings fill up very quickly and you’ll want to book them as early as possible.
If you’d rather stay in a hotel, there are several in West Yellowstone, and more located inside the park itself. Here are a few suggestions.
Front entrance to the Three Bear Lodge at dusk with the lights dimming
Three Bear Lodge, Yellow Stone National Park, Wyoming
Yellowstone National Park Lodges: If you’d like to stay at a hotel inside the park itself, you’ll want to take a look at Yellowstone National Park Lodges. But you’ll need to book these well in advance, and prices vary wildly. You’ll find rooms for anywhere from $100 to $1200, and most are in the $200 to $300 range. 
The Old Faithful Lodge tends to be the most expensive in the park and the most famous, while the Lake Yellowstone Hotel is the fanciest.
Stage Coach Inn: (from $59) An affordable hotel with rustic styling but modern amenities, the Stage Coach Inn is a great choice for families, with its indoor pool, sauna, and free continental breakfast. 
Yellowstone Lodge: (from $85) This quaint hotel has a great variety of rooms, including some with three queen-size beds. It has an indoor heated pool and jacuzzi, coin laundry, and free continental breakfast.
Three Bear Lodge: (from $125) A rustic three-star hotel with nice accommodations, including a pool, restaurant, and bar. A great choice for families or adults. But like most places in West Yellowstone, bookings fill up quickly.
Faithful Street Inn: ($129 to $749) With cabins with space for 2 to 18 guests, Faithful Street Inn offers a uniquely private stay in West Yellowstone. 

Where to eat in Yellowstone

We strongly recommend packing meals and drinks and bringing them into Yellowstone in coolers. We cannot stress enough just how large the park is, and there are only a few restaurants inside the park itself.
When you’re in the park, you’ll find restaurants in the areas of Old Faithful, Grant Village, and Lake Yellowstone Hotel. But we’re going to focus our restaurant recommendations on West Yellowstone and suggest picnicking in the park. Be sure to clean up your picnic spots!
Outpost Restaurant: ($$) The Outpost is great for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and the atmosphere is very family-friendly. They arguably have the best pancakes in West Yellowstone, and their Son of a Gun Stew is quite delicious. They have decent options for vegetarians too, including a yummy black bean burger.
Bullwinkle’s Saloon: ($$) Great food, a great bar, and 18 slot machines. What more do you need when traveling with adults? Kids are more than welcome to eat here too, and they can go back to school telling their friends they visited a real-life wild west saloon. Adults, try the elk ravioli—yes, really!—and their famous margaritas. They also have some of the best poutine on this side of the Canada-United States border.
The Buffalo Bar: ($$) This one is definitely aimed more at adults. The Buffalo Bar is a saloon and casino, like Bullwinkle’s, but their menu caters more to grown-ups. Their legendary “Buffalo Balls”—buffalo meatballs slathered in gravy—are excellent. Vegetarians should try their smothered veggie burrito.
Pro Tip: There are grocery stores in West Yellowstone where you can fill up your coolers with food, but you might find cheaper items in Idaho Falls.

What to do in Yellowstone

Yellowstone is a huge park, and there’s a lot you’ll want to see here. So here’s a general checklist of places you’ll want to visit during your Yellowstone adventures, starting west and working our way around:
Head east down US 191 and continue on this highway until it turns into Grand Loop Road, then head south. From here, you’ll visit (in order):
  • Firehole Falls
  • Morning Geyser and the Celestine Pool
  • The Grand Prismatic Spring
  • Black Sand Basin
  • Old Faithful
  • Shoshone Lake Overlook
  • West Thumb (several famous geysers here, including the Abyss Pool, Twin Geyser, Painted Pool, and more)
  • Grant Village (a great place to take a break)
After Grant Village, you can continue on 191 to the Continental Divide, or head north and get on route 20 of Grand Loop Road, which will take you to:
  • Sand Point (a great picnic spot)
  • Lake Yellowstone
  • The Fishing Bridge
Avoid accidentally crossing the Fishing Bridge. You want to head north and stay on the Grand Loop, which takes you further to:
  • LeHardy’s Rapids
  • Dragon’s Mouth Spring
  • The Yellowstone River Overlook
  • Canyon Village (home to countless scenic locales, there are a handful of restaurants here too)
From Canyon Village, take Norris Canyon Road west until you reach the intersection for the Grand Loop Road. Here you’ll find the Norris Geyser Basin, with a museum and several geysers, lakes, and springs all in one concentrated area. After leaving the Norris area, turn right (south) onto Grand Loop Road and continue onward toward:
  • Chocolate Pot Springs
  • Gibbon Meadows
  • Oblique Geyser
  • Caldera Rim
  • Gibbon Falls
  • Tuff Cliff
  • Terrace Springs
This area looks familiar, right? Well, you’ve been here! This completes the grand loop circuit. There’s so much more to see at Yellowstone, but this is a well-rounded tour of the park’s key attractions.

The longer scenic route from San Diego to Yellowstone

The highway along Jackson Hole with scenic mountain views on the way to Yellow Stone
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
If you’d prefer making your own way on a San Diego to Yellowstone road trip, or if you’d prefer a more outdoorsy road trip, we have a great alternative route for you to try too. 
This alternative road trip is ideal for those who want to take a more scenic route, visiting more national parks instead of big cities. On this route you’ll stop in:
  • San Diego, California
  • Phoenix, Arizona
  • Grand Canyon Village, Arizona
  • Page, Arizona
  • Salt Lake City, Utah
  • Jackson Hole, Wyoming
  • Yellowstone National Park (via the South Entrance)
This route will cover 1,460 miles and includes nearly 24 cumulative hours of driving The stops are a bit further apart, too. The drive from Page to Salt Lake City will take nearly six hours. So this is definitely a route you’ll want to split driving duties on. 
Along this alternative route, you can visit the Grand Canyon, Grand Staircase-Escalante, Dixie National Forest, Salt Lake City, Jackson Hole, and the Bridger-Teton National Forest, all before reaching Yellowstone.

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